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Thread: Original, Extra Crispy, Roasted, and YOUR Kenpo

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    Default Original, Extra Crispy, Roasted, and YOUR Kenpo

    Original, Extra Crispy, Roasted, and YOUR Kenpo


    Ron Chapél

    The answer to such a question is very complicated from one perspective and somewhat less complicated from another, yet still intricate.

    There are many people seeking to define their place in Kenpo and as such, either embrace or reject many descriptors of the various interpretations that have evolved from the original mainland progenitor. To emphasize their positions, many have created various associations supported by their interpretations to validate their point of view.

    I have personally clouded the issue by publicly making distinctions between what some see as the ‘mainstream’ versions of Ed Parker’s work versus others. I have further muddied the waters by being public enough in discussions to attract the ire of those born into a system that didn’t exist when I began. Clearly, everyone from their own perspective may choose to see the universe in their own terms, but Ed Parker taught me sound logic should be the deciding factor.

    Ed Parker himself made many distinctions in all of his teachings and created in his own evolution, various incantations, philosophies, and directions within the students exposed and or instructed during different periods in his life. Add to that an instructors willingness, or lack thereof, to share specific information with some and not others, creating additional downstream variances.

    In other words, the ‘so-called evolution’ of ‘Kenpo’ in the Parker Lineage is as convoluted as a conundrum wrapped in a riddle and punctuated by an enigma of inconsistent tolerances, at best.

    The question itself implies the existence of a singular evolving Kenpo philosophy from Ed Parker’s beginnings to the present day. This is obviously and completely incorrect.

    The art that is the most visible and the most codified at his death was his commercial art, known by some, and described by Ed Parker himself as “the study of motion” or Motion-Kenpo formally known as Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate. Perhaps a better defining descriptor would be “Motion-based Kenpo.” Nevertheless, this philosophy spawned by the desire to create commercial success necessitated a less restrictive and conceptual driven vehicle that would be open to everyone, of all ages and circumstances.

    I wrote an article years ago for Combat Sports Magazine about the evolution of the arts and Ed Parker’s Commercial Kenpo, making a case for its existence much as other arts had ‘evolved.’ The problem is not one of evolution, but a diversion for the sake of mass-market appeal. Once accomplished, the vehicle becomes an independent entity unto itself with practitioners declaring their version to be ‘the art’ instead of simple ‘a version of the art.’

    History lays witness to the creation of judo to mass market the more destructive combative Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. The many houses of Qung-fu ultimately evolved into mass-market appeal Wu Shu, while the original variations of the fluid Chinese Martial Science evolving to other nationalities somehow begat the rigidly limited information Okinawan and Japanese empty hand arts.

    Then, and finally, modern sport based models came into being virtually created by the Japanese, especially after World War 2 once again for mass-market appeal. Take note of “ken-do” from the samurai sword arts, or “Aiki-do” as well from jiu-jitsu as other examples of this historical process. Koreans nationalized their arts much like everyone else, spawning the sport “Tae Kwon Do” in the fifties over the lesser known and more intricate fighting “Hapkido” or even “Tang Soo Do.”

    It should come as no surprise to anyone in the ultimate self-gratification, quick, fast food, commercial market of America that an abridged version of any art would appear and achieve mass-market appeal and success.

    Ed Parker was a genius that loved the many different arts he studied and dissected, but he also was an entrepreneur and astute businessman. This clash between successful business mandates, and the deeper meaning and teaching of any art/science will never be resolved because the mass market devotees will, in general, not admit their place in histories evolution. No one who purchased VHS wanted to admit that BETA was better.

    For most, it is counterproductive to business and necessitates the admission that their accomplishments, although perfectly valid, may not be the highest standard available. This is especially true when one's credibility and identity are predicated upon the efficacy of their own product for sale.

    In any other business, this would be obvious. Few suggest that McDonald’s is a bad place to have an occasional meal. Their restaurants are plentiful and located almost everywhere in the world, consistent in presentation, quality, price, and will keep you from starving.

    No one describes them in the business world as ‘fine dining.’ But we must also recognize there are other less plentiful chain family restaurants as well, whose offerings are of higher quality than McDonald’s but with the accompanying prices to match, yet still not yet meet that ‘fine dining’ description.

    However, for upscale gourmet quality, there is always a special restaurant where chefs have honed their craft for many years, and dining is exquisite. Consumers will always gravitate to what they want and are willing to pay and commit to. Sometimes they partake of all three at different times of their own choosing and convenience.

    People choose the level they want. Many would rather just go to McDonald’s (especially the kids), because it’s reasonably priced, you know what you’re getting, and they’re local, close, and convenient. Does this sound familiar? Most who attend any martial arts studio do so at a convenient location. I’ve often entertained questions from those who ask me, “There’s no Kenpo near me what am I going to do?” I thought the answer was a simple one, do what you must to get to a Kenpo School, or “eat” somewhere else to satiate your “hunger.”

    Mass-market martial arts are no different. From Kempo to Kenpo, to Krav Maga, to Tae Kwon Do, to judo, etc. They are all ‘easier’ and more convenient than other more intense, and more demanding precursor arts. That is not to say an individual instructor cannot excel beyond the vehicle he makes a living with, but that is much less likely for a couple of reasons.

    Most of these instructors are those born in the ‘systems’ they teach, and therefore inherited all of its built-in limitations. In addition, someone who has worked long, and hard to achieve a level of mastery would be unlikely to teach other than what he was taught. Much like a gourmet chef graduating from a prestigious culinary school would be eager to open up a fast-food burger joint, and flip patties all day on a grill.

    So historically speaking, the existence and success of ‘Commercial-Kenpo’ should not be a surprise to anyone. But, like the restaurant analogy, there are cars that come off an assembly line that is ‘adequate’ on one end of the scale. Then there are cars singularly built by hand by skilled craftsmen at the other. Somewhere in between the adequate and best are ‘upscale’ versions of common brands where more attention to detail and a commitment to quality also provide a better quality vehicle, for more than the mass brand, but for less than the handmade. ‘Free market’ concepts make room for all.

    Ed Parker was no different, and in fact, provided various versions of his arts at every step of his personal evolution. The dominant versions were always dictated by external sources and his personal preferences. Once the decision was made to create Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate, Mr. Parker was quite proud of the process, and what he envisioned his creation could do for the martial arts.

    He was right, It allowed him to proliferate his ideas while providing those with significate commitment an “adequate” vehicle to learn self-defense. It had the ability to appeal to the lowest common denominator customer, (children), as well as those adults who wanted to truly engage intellectually and physically. But, business always gravitates towards the numbers that represent the greatest profit.

    It is not generally known, but to a significant degree, Ed Parker’s creation of mass-market Kenpo was instigated by a personal tragedy. Approached by eventual business partners to create “Action Karate Magazine,” Parker became the victim of others questionable business practices that ultimately forced him into bankruptcy to protect his family and property.

    Although this was not the only reason he created Commercial Kenpo, clearly it had a significant impact, especially when you have a wife and five children, and you make your living ‘selling’ the martial arts. The degree of impact may be debatable, but his own admission of “Urgent necessity” to protect his assets leaves no doubt of the connection. This is not to negate Parker’s ultimate goals of proliferation, which existed long before the bankruptcy was necessary.

    However, to assume that the creation of a diversion art to sell, changed Ed Parker’s personal evolution and his personal art would also be a huge mistake. He always separated what he did from what he promoted and sold. Witness some of the many mechanisms not present or articulated in the commercial art that was clearly visible in Parker’s own execution being only recently discovered by some today in perusing old film and videos. Mr. Parker’s Personal Art was head and shoulders above the Kenpo he had to sell. This is also why those born into Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate could never duplicate his physical success. They never had the tools to do so. This is significantly “old” information to people like his only son Edmund who studied science principles of the body with his father, not ‘motion’ Kenpo Karate Principles. One is only the beginning, while the other is significantly advanced.

    Some who thought they had reached the pinnacle of Mr. Parker’s teaching in his motion vehicle ridiculed Edmund jr. for his approach and lack of knowledge of the Kenpo Karate System, not understanding he was following the path his father had laid out for him, much as I did as well. So, Edmund’s and my own “Kenpo” was always “different.”

    It is also why the best practitioners of the works of Mr. Parker are either “old school,’ or seasoned veterans of other older and more traditional arts first before finding Kenpo's innovative approach. But Mr. Parker knew this, and recruited those veterans to initially teach his new innovative approach, but business mandates created a second generation that was married to a system that pushed quantity over quality and didn’t have the time or inclination to teach the true intricacies of the arts, and whose base concepts contradicted ‘old school” methods for the sake of proliferation and profitability.

    So adopting the single time/evolution line from the beginning to what an individual may have been exposed to is a dubious perspective at best. There is no one Kenpo, nor is there a single timeline. Every time Parker taught someone and changed something from what he had taught another, he fractured his own timeline by creating a divergent lineage, all valid from within and from its own perspective.

    Even so, unfortunately, interpretations are not created equal. As Mr. Parker’s knowledge grew, it caused a shift in the sophistication hierarchy of every version or lineage. What was state of the art in the fifties was old Kenpo in the sixties, and ancient in the seventies as Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate began to take hold. When he taught someone something, and found a better way to do it and taught it to someone else, he pushed himself forward and older material further into history, and made it by comparison less effective material.

    My own personal timeline was always in a state of flux to the same extent as Mr. Parker. Coming from one of his many influences, (Xifu Ark Wong) as he did, as my current teacher when he changed, so did I as he dictated. But because we had common influences and he was aware of my previous training, it dictated a much different path for me than others, much like Guru Dan Inosanto, who also came from Xifu Ark Wong.

    I remember him teaching inward blocks by cocking the blocking hand to the ear and launching linearly from there. “Phonetic Blocking” he called it then. However, when he began studying with Xifu Ark Wong and others, the blocking action changed to a more circular movement, as he began to understand “indexing” (my term) or “phrasing” of the movements. Both methods worked, but the latter was and is infinitely superior evolving from the former.

    Therefore, for me, there is no ‘original’ kenpo, only an on-going process of understanding what he wanted and how he wanted it, as I was forced to evolve with him. Few did. Most of the fifties still do some version of fifties kenpo, and those splinters from the sixties are the same way.

    Then, in the seventies interject his free-form motion based commercial product into the timeline and you began to see the same phenomenon that beset other arts in history. A clear alteration and mass market adjustment that removed (or never placed) significant information in its structure, to ensure a less demanding and complex abstract vehicle that allowed all students and teachers to seek their own level of competency within the limitations of the chosen vehicle. When you consider this commercial vehicle, unlike traditional arts, allowed and promoted students and teachers ‘tailoring’ for their own personal preferences, you began to see why the wide existence of disparity is so ever-present today.

    In Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate, no one has a definitive way to do anything from a basic stance to an inward block. In spite of what some may think, you cannot ‘freeform’ your way to mastery of a physical science. You may, however, achieve a level of competency that is acceptable to you, the customer-client, and be awarded rank for that achievement. So long as you’re content, then the vehicle has done its job, and you are forced to take responsibility for its effectiveness, (or lack thereof), because you tailored it.

    That is all that Mr. Parker wanted. It was “McKenpo.” It was decent, filling, and satisfied your hunger, and Mr. Parker was proud of the accomplishment. But he also knew the quality of the meal was up to the student and the teacher, and some would excel and most would not. But he never promised anyone the “secrets” of Ancient Chinese Masters in a strip mall. Only, that you would leave with more than you came in with.

    To that end, soft tissue strikes, rakes, claws, and eye pokes are dominant themes in the commercial vehicle. This is because they insure at the base level, there will be some measure of success should the student ever have to attempt to use it. Few seem to recognize, they knew how to poke someone in the eyes the day they enrolled in classes.

    The problem has always been in the separation of the arts when the mass-market version reaches significant proportions. Then it takes on a life of its own, and its practitioners declare it to be the ultimate, despite its roots.

    None of Mr. Parker’s Black Belts students who studied previous to Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate Creation, to my knowledge, were interested in the ‘new’ motion diversion, and none to my knowledge teach it. Most avoid criticism from the ‘motion born’ by simply not pointing these things out. Ancients like Chuck Sullivan, Dave Hebler, the late Steve Herring, or Stephen LaBounty, etc. have quietly extended their own interpretations from their eras of teachings, and lineage. Some have given it a new name; others simply still call it “Kenpo.”
    "Nothing is more dangerous than the conscientiously ignorant, or the sincerely stupid." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    "Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens." - Ed Parker Sr.

    "It's much easier to quote, than to know." - Ron Chapél

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    Default Re: Original, Extra Crispy, Roasted, and YOUR Kenpo

    Dear Doc, you are to be commended once again for your outstanding commitment to the historical aspects of kenpo and the martial arts in general! Thanks for your efforts!

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